Category Archives: Book Reviews

You Beneath Your Skin – #CoverReveal #BookReview

I am happy to be part of the cover reveal for Damyanti Biswas‘s debut crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin to be published this September by Simon & Schuster, India. I’ve known Damyanti for some time now and have admired her commitment to the written word as also to social causes. Her blog is a valuable resource for aspiring writers.

So, without further ado, here’s it is!

The red and black cover with a partly visible face in the background promises a crime story with plenty of intrigue. One cannot help but wonder who that face belongs to and what story she might have to tell.

Sample the blurb here and get set to be further intrigued.

Lies. Ambition. Family. 

It’s a dark, smog-choked New  Delhi winter. Indian American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her  job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is  in a long-standing affair with ambitious Police Commissioner Jatin Bhatt  – an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives.

Jatin’s  home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he  appears to be, and his wife has too much on her plate to pay attention  to either husband or son. But Jatin refuses to listen to anyone, not  even the sister to whom he is deeply attached.

Across  the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags,  faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of  control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all.

In  a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin  must make some hard choices. But what he unearths is only the tip of the  iceberg. Together with Anjali he must confront old wounds and uncover  long-held secrets before it is too late.


Since the blurb gives a fair idea of the story and also because there’s only so much one can reveal when it’s a thriller I’ll skip right over to what I thought of the book.

It’s definitely a fast-paced read and it keeps one hooked throughout. I read it in one go.

The narrative etches out the characters so effectively that one begins to care for them pretty early on in the book. Not just the protagonists but also a host of side-characters are all very real. Whether it’s a child from the slums or a teen from upmarket society – the voices are authentic and believable.

Although the book is a thriller I loved how it also touched upon a number of social issues and wove in the complexities of human relationships as well. Most of all as a parent I was shocked and horrified to see how a well-meaning parent can go all wrong simply by not keeping in touch with one’s child’s thoughts and feelings, how strongly peers influence children and how unaware parents often are of what their teens are up to.

Do check out this book if you like pacy reads that also engage with various social issues.

Pre-order YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN here.

For You Beneath Your Skin, all proceeds to the author would be divided between Chhanv Foundation and Project WHY.

About the author:

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta #BookReview

Book: Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta
Author: Amish Tripathi

I have a soft spot for this series by Amish Ramayan series because it was with the first book  Scion of Ikshvaku that I kicked off this blog. I loved that one. I was curious about how Amish would handle this multilinear narrative and that was what made me pick up Sita and now Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta.

The story

The book traces the life of Ravan, son of Rishi Vishrava and Kaikesi. Disliked by his father and not particularly fond of his mother Ravan, is a lonely child. He has a streak of cruelty that makes him torture small animals and watch them die.

If he has one tender place in his heart, it is for his baby brother Kumbhakaran. Ravan leaves his father’s ashram with his  mother, his uncle Mareech and Kumbha to protect his (Kumbha’s) life.

He knows he is made for great things and he sets out to achieve what is rightfully his, Kumbha and Mareech by his side. From a small-time smuggler he turns into a pirate and powerful trader. Unfettered by the values and principles that hamper others he forges ahead.

However, there is one pure, unsullied memory from his childhood that refuses to leave him – a face, a voice that could potentially steer him away from his reckless path. He seeks out that face but on the verge of turning over a new leaf it is snatched away from him. Filled with rage, he unleashes it on the Sapt Sindhu. Ravan thus emerges as the quintessential villain. He challenges the authority of Kubaera the businessman ruler of Lanka and displaces him to become king.

As he notches up victory after victory he is unaware that he is part of a larger plan, a cog in the wheel rolling towards a greater goal, orchestrated by the great rishi Vishwamitra. 

Ravan was a disappointment

First there’s the voice of Amish. He speaks the language of the millennials and that gets jarring, specially in a mythological setting (Remember Hanu Bhaiya in Sita?). I get that it’s his style and I did love Meluha though it had the same voice. Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve grown up listening to the Ramayan and so find it tough to adjust to this pop-version.

My biggest complaint however is that the book turns plain boring in bits. There were too many and too detailed explanations and descriptions – of the Sapt Sindhu, the caste dynamics, the trading system, of traditions and palaces. There are too few dialogues, slackening the pace of the story.

Then there’s the story itself. Amish is known to give his own twist to every tale. I’ve liked his twists, I’ve liked how they tie in neatly with the original familiar story. However here, without giving out spoilers, all I’ll say is that Ravan as an angry lover-boy didn’t seem believable at all, more fantasy than mythology.

Then there’s the reference to Sabarimala. In his previous books he brought in references to a gory rape and then Jallikattu, this time it was Sabarimala. Perhaps that’s an attempt to weave in current events but it seems like a forced addition to the narrative.

The saving grace was the portrayal of Kumbhkaram – the endearing, good-natured giant. He is Ravan’s conscience and emerges (almost) as the hero of the book.

Also, I’m a little curious how Amish will take the story forward now that Ravan knows who Sita is. I’m hoping with all the war-action the next one won’t be a disappointment.

Perhaps the author should stick with lesser-known mythological re-tellings. He certainly has the knack for bringing alive mythological settings, of building up strong characters and of springing surprises.

Last thought: Read it only if, like me, you’ve committed yourself to the series. You might find yourself skipping pages though.

Behind Closed Doors #BookReview

Book: Behind Closed Doors
Author: BA Paris

Jack and Grace are the perfect couple. He’s a rich, good looking lawyer completely in love with Grace, while she is his perfect companion, graceful and elegant, one who throws perfect dinner parties in their perfectly beautiful home. The two are never, and I mean never ever, apart.

Grace has an autistic younger sister Millie who is due to come to live with her and Jack soon. And Jack is looking forward to it as much as Grace is, perhaps even more.

So is this couple for real? Is there a catch?

Before I begin to tell you the good and the bad let me just say that Behind Closed Doors was a complete edge-of-the-seat page turner. It kept me awake reading late into the night and then I couldn’t sleep because I was scared of the nightmares that might come to haunt me.

There really is a kind of morbid fascination in reading about someone purely evil. The blurb almost gives it away and one knows from the start that Jack and Grace aren’t as perfect as they seem. Within the first few pages we get to know that Grace is being kept prisoner by Jack who is a psychopath.

That there, was my first issue with the book – that we get to know the real Jack too early. The mystery could have been built up better if his real nature was revealed slowly over more pages. That the POV is Grace’s might have thrown up some problems but it could have been done.

I have to reiterate though, that knowing the real Jack doesn’t take away from the tension. You read on in horror wondering what he would do next, whether Grace would try to escape and what would happen when she does.

The other thing that bothered me was how Grace transformed from a terrorised wife to a perfect hostess. Is it even possible to behave normally, to interact with people, socialise with them (Jack wanted that) and not let them have a hint of what you’re going through when you’re in the grip of such absolute terror? I get that Grace had a strong motivation to fall in with Jack’s blackmail but I wondered if it was physically emotionally possible to keep the pretence going. How long can one make excuses to not go for dates with girl-friends, to not meet anyone without the husband?

Though the end was not difficult to guess the ‘how’ of it kept me intrigued. However, when it did come it seemed too easy. That’s an issue I often have with books – the build up is great but the end is a let down.

And there was one major loop hole. If you have read the book, or when you read it, I’d love to know if you figured it out.

Though the suspense in the book wasn’t great, the edge of the seat tension definitely was.

Last thought: A page turner, despite some loose ends.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book written by someone of a different nationality/colour/ethnic group than you’.

Everything I never told you #BookReview

Book: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng

‘Lydia is dead’ says the opening line of this book. However don’t go into it thinking it to be a thriller and you’ll love it.

This is the story of…

a mixed race couple, Marilyn and James Lee, and their children Lydia, Nathan and Hannah.

Lydia is clearly the parents’ favourite. She is the focus of their lives and carries the burden of their expectations. Marilyn wants Lydia to become a doctor and sees it as the fulfilment of her own childhood dream. James on the other hand has always struggled to fit in being a child of Chinese parents. He wants Lydia to have friends, to be a ‘regular American teen’.

Nathan and Hannah get stray bits of their parent’s attention. Nath is bullied by Lee to the point where he begins to doubt himself. He is by turns resentful and sympathetic towards Lydia. Hannah remains an invisible presence longing for her parents’ as well as her siblings’ affection. She is an insightful little girl observing much more than she’s given credit for.

Then one day Lydia disappears. A few days later her body is fished out from a lake. That’s when the delicate threads that hold the family unravel, spilling out ugly secrets. Is it a murder? Is it a suicide? Does her friendship with their neighbour Jack have anything to do with it?

What I thought of it

Although a murder mystery forms the core of the narrative, the book is the story of a family, its criss crossing relationships and the desire of every child to be loved and accepted.

Each of the characters is beautifully etched with strong back stories that explain clearly why they behave the way they do. That is what makes this book exceptionally readable and relatable.

One can see where Marilyn and James are coming from, why they want what they do for Lydia. And yet one can also see its terrible consequences.

The relationship between Nath and Lydia is beautifully portrayed. Nath obviously resents her and yet the two share an unsaid understanding. He knows that the constant attention of her parents annoys and upsets Lydia and he tries to deflect it too, not always with happy results.

Everything I never told you talks about how expectations can weigh down a child no matter how honourable the intentions. It brings home the fact that parents can sometimes pressurise their children without even being aware of it. There’s the obvious coercion where they push, nag and reprimand and then there’s emotional coercion which isn’t as obvious and yet can be far more overwhelming and potent. Worse still, it leaves little room for refusal or rebellion because one isn’t being coerced overtly at all.

That’s a dangerous place to be in.

Oh I felt for Lydia. I know children like her – the ‘good girls’ who struggle to deliver at every level. But what happens if they cannot? What if they do not want what their parents want for them and can never say it for fear of breaking their parents’ hearts? So intense and palpable is the constant tension in Lydia’s life that one almost feels a sense of relief as the waters of the lake close on her.

As a mom to twins who worries constantly about dividing time and attention fairly between them the focus on Lydia seemed incongruous. That was perhaps the single jarring factor of the book. However, that’s not to say I haven’t seen it happen. It definitely does, thought perhaps it isn’t as blatant.

Last thought: A wonderful read about love and family and expectations. Definitely worth a read.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book on crime-solving’.

Jet Lag #BookReview

Book: Jet Lag
Author: Ann Birstein

I took up JetLag on a recommendation from Sonali’s Book Club. That it was a World War II book was of course another big reason.

This is a travelogue..

..by the author who signs up for a European Discovery Tour – a trip that would take her to Jewish sites across Eastern Europe. She feels the need to explore her Jewish roots, to see the ‘origin’ as she puts it.

Along with her on the tour is a group of people each prompted by their own reasons. They travel from Warsaw and Auschwitz to Lithuania, Chez Republic and Hungary visiting all the sites of the horrible tragedy that was WW II. In Lithuania she visits the Yeshiva (Jewish Educational Institution) where her father had studied and tries to imagine what his life would have been like.

What I liked

The book brings home the tragedy in all its horror. Through Ann and her erudite guide we get to know of countless stories of life in the ghettos. These are stories of horror of course yet also of hope because people continued to believe that the madness had to end.

The Jews led almost regular lives, at least initially. They ran libraries, taught music and organised children’s operas. It is amazing how people kept on living ‘normal’ lives even in the most cruel, abnormal conditions. It shocked me to realise how easily we adapt to and accept whatever circumstances we are forced to live in. And that, I believe, is the biggest lesson history teaches us – to protest an unfair act no matter how small.

Many of them defied the rules too. They did it systematically and repeatedly till even that became their new normal. Above all, they wrote and photographed, constantly chronicling whatever was happening around them, leaving it all for posterity even as their numbers depleted day by day with groups of them being transported to the ovens.

Some instances talked about in the book will stay with me for a long time.

There were mentions of people like Emanuel Ringelblum the Warsaw Ghetto chronicler, Photographer George Kadish from Kovno, Lithuania and Abraham Sutzkever with his lyrical yet terrible descriptions of the holocaust. I spent hours looking each of them up on the Net and following their pictures.

The statistics are stunning in their enormity.

What could have been better

While the ghetto stories were inspiring as well as heart-breaking, the memoir didn’t draw me in. The narrative never became personal hence turned dull in parts.

Also, the people on the tour didn’t really come together as a group. I missed the warmth, the mutual sympathy that comes through a shared tragedy. Most of them had back stories but they were rather tenuous ones and I couldn’t connect with them with the exception of Rita and Max. They had both been at the concentration camps when they were young. Rita, as an 18-year-old, was incarcerated at Auschwitz and her husband Max was on the Schildler’s List. Their stories were moving, their dignity in the face of trauma, impressive. A book from their perspective would be worth a read.

I struggled with Yiddish terms and was glad I was reading it on the Kindle so I could look up the words as I went along.

Last thought: This one certainly deserves a read, however it is more of a fact file on WWII than a personal narrative.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book written by a female author’.

Click here to buy this book

The World’s Worst Children 3 #Review

Book Title: The World’s Worst Children 3
Author: David Walliams

Here is a book that’s quintessentially David Walliams. What? Haven’t read Walliams yet? Well then, this is a good place to start.

The World’s Worst Children 3, is the third book (obviously!) in this series of the terriblest children you’re ever going to meet. There are ten short stories about ten terrors. Walliams imbues his protagonists with one troublesome flaw after another, building up their ‘atrocities’ till you’re clamouring for an end. Of course the end comes and in the most traditional, old-fashioned way.

There’s Walter the Wasp with a tongue that spews insults, there’s Hanks Pranks who can’t help but play pranks, there’s Boastful Barnabus who cannot stop boasting and a host of others. They offer a bunch of laughs as they trouble, tease and torment finally meeting their just desserts, leaving a lesson for young readers.

Some stories hit the spot to perfection. For instance there was Honey the Hogger – the tale of a girl who hogs the loo making her brother squirm when he needs to pee. This could have been lifted straight from my home. Oh and Kung Fu Kylie was a bit of a wicked winner, delivering a chop to her Geography teacher for giving her an F. That’s something I’d definitely not propagate, but the appeal to kids is undeniable.

This is the kind of book a child can open at any page and begin to read. Replete with delightful alliterations, it makes for a fun adventure, even though my children are a little over age for it. The illustrations by Tony Ross are gorgeous and the glossy pages add to its good looks.

Walliams picks up Dahl’s formula of strong children as protagonists set off by rather weak adults and takes it forward with élan. As an adult I have enjoyed a few of his books (The Boy in the Dress) while some others I have found over-the-top. I give three stars to this particular collection because it offered some laughs yet had nothing new to offer and not much of a storyline either. Also, I really have to mention, that the first story, The Terrible Triplets, had me gagging. But that’s my point of view as an adult.

As a mom to twins, I do know that children have a whole different reaction to all things gross and are rarely as freaked out as adults. They also seem to revel in repetitions laughing over passages just as hard each time as they had the very first time they read it. For them the book is a winner.

It provided us with a welcome change during the rather stressful exam season.

Last thought: I’ll put this one down as a fun read for children.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Night Rainbow – A hauntingly beautiful read

Book Title: The Night Rainbow
Author: Claire King

What do you do if you lose your papa in an accident and your maman, pregnant with a baby, moves to a far away place in her head where you cannot reach her? In a place where she cannot abide loud noises, cooks when she feels up to it but mostly keeps to her room?

Well, you take care of yourself the best you can even if you’re just five. You make sure you don’t bother maman, you play in the meadow, splash around in the stream and eat fruits or make yourself a sandwich when you’re hungry. Most of all, you try to find ways to make maman happy because you want her back with all the wanting in your little heart.

That’s the story

..of five and half year old Peony, better known as Pea, her little sister Margot and their mum Joanna. As Joanna loses herself to depression the two little girls are left to their own devices. They spend their days talking and playing. During their wanderings they meet a man, Claude and Merlin his dog, and strike up a friendship. Claude keeps his distance even though he is affectionate and caring but the girls come to look upon him as the father figure they miss so much.

Set in the summer of a small French village, that is the all the plot you’ll find in The Night Rainbow. It isn’t much, so if you’re looking for a story you will be disappointed. Nothing really happens. The narrative has the dull sameness of the  routine of Pea’s days. As you progress through the pages you wait for something to happen. You wait for the market days when Pea gets to go out with her mum as much as she does. You look forward to her interactions with Calude or even the small chance encounters with other village folk.

But here’s the thing, the book draws you in. You step into it and you feel what Pea is feeling. You find yourself grinning when she manages to draw a smile from Joanna, you cringe in the dark with her as she battles her imagined monsters and you want to hold her and hug away her yearning for a real family.

This one isn’t meant to be read for its racy narrative, it is one of those soul-stirring stories whose beauty lies in its slowness. There’s a bit of a revelation towards the end which makes the story even more poignant. And I wonder how I missed it through the book.

Perhaps the book affected me as it did because it spoke in a child’s voice.

Pea was a delightful heroine. Sometimes she seems a trifle old for her age but I forgave her considering she’s had to run her life on her own. I had to try hard to not get judgemental about Joanna. Mothers cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing into themselves when they have a five-year-olds to look out for. My heart broke for Pea as she tries, tries ever so hard to make Joanna happy. Her deep yearning to bring a smile to her maman’s face, for the hugs, the kisses and the cuddles, for the warmth of the old times and her childish attempts towards that are heartbreaking. When she fights the night demons, her loneliness is palpable and yet so strong is her concern for Joanna that she is refuses to wake her up.

There were times where I wanted to shake Joanna out of her depression. If that were even possible. But when I would put away the  judgemental mum in me I’d feel so so sorry for her. To have lost a baby first then your husband, to be far away from your own home, with hostile in-laws, heavily pregnant and all alone – how terrible must that be. She tries. She cooks somedays and smiles too but the sadness weighs too heavily on her leaving her lethargic and uncaring.

Though Pea rarely cries or even complains, her longing is tangible and that is what makes this a sad, haunting, beautiful read. When Shelly said ‘the most beautiful songs were born out of the saddest things’ he could have been talking about The Night Rainbow.

Last thought: It’s definitely worth a read but it’s likely to pull you down into a well of sadness so pick it up with care.

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info